Wednesday 27 June 2007

This blog is rated R!

Online Dating

I couldn't help myself. When I saw it on Justine Larbalastiere's blog, I had to go see how Notes from the Slushpile would rate. Apparently, my writings about trying to get published in the children's sector is too lascivious for some.

The rating was determined by the presence of the following words:

death (4x) sexy (3x) pain (2x) hell (1x)


Saturday 9 June 2007

Lee Weatherly's Tips on How to Write a Synopsis

… I hate writing synopses because they are much more difficult to write than the novel ever was. It's not easy distilling 100,000-odd words into a few pages.

Author Lee Weatherly takes a completely opposite view.

"Hand on heart, they are really not that hard," she says.

And yet writing synopses is described by many writers is one of the most excruciating aspects to selling a manuscript.
What is it about this particular piece of writing that brings out more moans and groans from writers than a roomful of sixth graders getting a surprise math test?
Writers fear the act of writing synopsis because they cannot see themselves squeezing the best of their narratives into a few paragraphs.

But this is a misunderstanding of what synopses are for, says Weatherly. "The agent (or editor) does not want nearly as much information as we think they want. To write a good synopsis, you have to understand what it is the agent wants from the synopsis … don't lose sleep over it. At the end of the day it is just part of the package."

What does the agent want?

We must view the synopsis from the point of view of the agent, says Weatherly, who has worked for an agency as a slush pile reader. "The synopsis is not the place for stylistic writing, it is a functional document."

Agents are unlikely to read the synopsis unless they like the writing. If the sample chapters pass muster, they turn to the synopsis to find out if:

  • the story hangs together

  • there is a story arc
The synopsis must be a user-friendly document (so user friendly "you (the agent) can just glance through it and join your friend at the pub")

  • The header must have all the information the agent needs – the author's name, the number of words, contact details, genre

  • It must be easy to read: lots of white space with a readable font (as opposed to long blocks of text and tiny font sizes)

  • They want to get a clear sense of the plot main moments: how you set-up the situation > the inciting event > the high point > rug-pulling moment > climax >resolution

  • They want to know the ending

  • Focus on the action but give the agent a clue of the emotional threads

  • Don't hold back secrets

  • Is it hard to read? "This makes agents sound precious but keep in mind all the manuscripts they have to go through … you must make their life as easy as possible"

A Synopsis can expose weaknesses in your narrative

"If your synopsis is 14 pages long, (the agent) might assume that the story is over written … which is not fair because the synopsis is not the story."

And yet many problem areas do reveal themselves. The synopsis must highlight key plot turning points — the "cause and effect that drives a story forward" — and without the usual padding of words any weaknesses are easy to spot.

"If you have a problem," says Lee, "it is really going to show."

Lee Weatherly (Missing Abby, Child X) spoke to the British SCBWI Professional Series on 24 May 2007.

Friday 1 June 2007

The Sting in Nice Rejections

Rating the quality of the rejections may help salve the wound.

The nice ones, the ones that compliment your writing, must mean the manuscript was almost good enough - or maybe, the manuscript was good enough but it was not right for the agent at the time, or maybe the agent liked you, really liked you, but it wasn't the sort of manuscript they had been successful in selling in the past.

You feel better analysing the rejections but don't forget: it's just guess work. It ain't true.

One day, a friend showed me a rejection letter that had given him hope. It said his book was excellent but that the agent didn't feel passionate enough about it to take it out to the market. It was a rejection, but it was encouraging.

The problem was, it was worded exactly in the same way as a rejection I'd received from the same agent.

Comes author Lee Weatherly (Missing Abby, Child X) at her recent SCBWI talk in London. Lee revealed that she used to read the slush pile at David Higham Associates and send out the rejections. She said she was given four letter templates to choose from that ranged in tone from negative to very enthusiastic.

So those rejection letters? They're not personal.

Editorialanonymous (my new must-read after Miss Snark retired) does us a favour with this list of eight things you should know about rejections. The most important thing of all is point six:

Most rejection letters mean nothing. Nothing. (Except that you can cross that publisher/agent off the list.) You need to internalize this fact however you can. Chant it in the bathtub. Write it backwards on your forehead. Listen to a tapeloop of it while you sleep. No matter what the editor/agent says, no matter what words they use, rejection letters mean nothing.

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